Tennessee lawmakers try new drug ban

photo Tennessee Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet
Arkansas-Tennessee Live Blog

NASHVILLE - Tennessee lawmakers plan to trip up manufacturers and retailers who have until now sidestepped efforts to outlaw "designer" drugs mimicking the effects of stimulants and other substances.

Gone are the detailed descriptions of complex chemical chains of organic compounds.

Instead, sponsors of a bill use a strategy that bans "analogue" substances having the same effect of the stimulants, depressants or hallucinogens.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, told committee colleagues the approach "attacks the plague that is synthetic drugs, and it's designed to capture present synthetic or designer drugs as well as those created in the future."

It easily passed the committee.

The legislation also changes penalties from a misdemeanor to a felony for the manufacture, sale or possession of substances like bath salts and plant food that are sold for human consumption with the intention of producing cheap and sometimes dangerous highs.

"Here's the problem," said Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, the House sponsor of the bill. "Last year, we thought we had it [the problem] cornered and we named long, organic compounds."

But, Shipley said, "the ink was still wet on the legislation and they [manufacturers] dropped one carbon ion and replaced it with a chloride ion on the end. And it was no longer illegal."

"This legislation moves to [effects]," the lawmaker added. "It says if it acts like a duck, quacks like a duck, it's a duck and you're going to jail."

The beefed-up felony penalties also would apply to a similar law passed last year that attacked the use of synthetic cannabinoids that mimic the effect of marijuana.

Legislation also adds the offenses of intent to manufacture and conspiracy. Offenders could wind up on the state's methamphetamine registry.

During Tuesday's hearing, Beavers said that perhaps the most important definition in the bill is an examination of price differences between what is sold for ingestion and the original substance.

"You can probably buy 10 pounds of actual bath salts or plant food for what you pay for a gram of synthetic plant food or bath salts," Beavers said.